Austin On Dallas: Trading Spencer Would Be Jimmy Style Genius

I can’t say I have witnessed many shockingly crafty player strategy moves come from the Dallas Cowboys over the last several years.  In 2012, the Morris Claiborne draft trade-up was solid and unexpected, yet his value slightly exceeds the price paid in draft selection loss.

I do expect Claiborne to be a high caliber fixture on the Cowboys’ defense for years to come. However, his immense value was widely recognized by all teams, and the cost was a probable future starter lost by way of the forfeited 2nd round pick.

On the contrary, a move to trade the franchise tagged Spencer would resemble Jimmy Johnson genius.  Prior to the 2013 tag, Spencer was likely done wearing the star.

I doubt very seriously the Cowboys would have had the financial freedom and desire to match the highest bidder for the top-rated linebacker in 2013 free agency.

Ranked high on the free agent list and coming off a stellar season indicating he is in his prime, I have little doubt that trading Spencer would land Dallas a 2nd round selection in the upcoming draft.

It’s no secret after Sensabaugh was axed, the Cowboys are in dire need of a starting caliber safety, along with offensive line and defensive line starters.  Trading Spencer is a leap to firmly address all 3 deficient areas.



The selection slots in which teams fully expect to receive starter production are mostly found in the top 2 rounds.  Sure starters often come from much lower in the draft, mostly viewed as bonus good fortune.

Yet the prevailing expectations and normal barometer when drafting is for 1st and 2nd round picks to become immediate difference makers right out of the gate.

With Spencer valued for a 2nd round pick, let’s see where it leaves the Cowboys…

Larry Warford

Dallas must secure 3 starters in the 2013 draft…OG or OT, DE or DT, and at safety.  With the Spencer trade, Dallas would now own (1) 1st-round selection and (2) 2nd round selections.

And where does this draft happen to be the deepest and most likely to provide starting caliber players in the first 2 rounds?  DL, OL, and safety.  In essence, with 3 selections in the first 2 rounds, this draft is tailor made to be a home run for the Cowboys.

So let’s say things work out ideally and the Cowboys snag a starting OG, DT, and safety.  All highly possible outcomes with those picks.  What other significant benefits come from trading Spencer?



Recall that Dallas had to clear enough cap space to tag Spencer in the first place…$10.6 million.  As I understand it, if traded, the Cowboys are off the hook for that 2013 tag salary and the new team assumes Spencer’s current and future costs.

That being so, Dallas would now have freed up that $10.6 mil to pay the extra draft selection, yet also still have a hefty sum to pick up a couple of quality free agents.

Andre Branch was a high 2nd round DE selection (38th overall) for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012.  Branch came with a 2012 cap hit of roughly $925k.

Israel Idonije

We can assume the cost of the 2013 2nd round draft pick Spencer would swap for lands just North of that, around $1.2 mil.

Subtracting $1.2 mil from Spencer’s $10.6 mil tag cost would provide the Cowboys with an estimated $9.4 mil more in cap space than they have today.

$9.4 mil is certainly enough cash to acquire 2 solid free agents to at least provide quality contributions next season. One potential target might be Bears’ DE Israel Idonije.

Playing under now Cowboys D-line Coach Rod Marinelli in 2012…Idonije racked up 48 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 5 QB hits, and 31 hurries.  5 hurries at the expense of Tony Romo.

He was the 12th ranked 4-3 DE of 62 who played > 25% of his team’s snaps.  In 2012 his cap hit was $2.5 mil.  While turning 33 next fall and entering his 10th season, Idonije is still playing at a high level.  His cost projects in the 3 years/$12-$15 mil ($9 mil guaranteed) neighborhood.



The trade would recreate the DE void that Spencer has now refilled.  Yet if he were never tagged that hole would still be open regardless.  Tyrone Crawford will make a sizable jump after another off-season, a year of NFL experience, and switch to his natural 4-3 DE position.

Tyrone Crawford

Let’s put it this way, am I more comfortable starting Tyrone Crawford at DE or Matt Johnson at safety?  Hands down Tyrone Crawford.

I have observed Crawford and witnessed his potential in live NFL game situations.  Johnson is a mystery roll of the dice.

I spent an entire off-season hearing how amazing WR Andre Holmes looked in practice. The latest Jerry-anointed savior then contributed 2 catches for 11 total yards in 2012.

Similar story with Matt Johnson.  He looked promising in the little time he was healthy enough to practice.  Honestly, that tells me nothing about how he will actually play in his first year on the field, much less as the immediate starter.

Johnson was s a small school college player, has yet to play in an NFL game, and already has battled injuries.  Not ideal and safe to start by any means.

Suffice to say, Crawford is much more reliable at DE, than Johnson at safety.  Along with Crawford, Dallas can add a quality free agent as a starter/rotation guy, or a high draft pick at DE.  The Spencer trade will easily provide flexibility for this.



When the ink is dry, trading a tagged Spencer would indirectly amount to a 3-for-1 player swap…Spencer and his huge cap hit exchanged for a high draft pick and 2 quality free agents. Spencer will likely be gone in 2014 if not signed to a long-term deal this off-season.

Nobody knows if Spencer in the 4-3 DE role can duplicate production worthy of a lofty contract. He’s been fairly solid for years but an elite player just once, which is where his money demands currently reside.  That’s a risk this cash strapped organization cannot afford to take.

With the 3 new players ultimately acquired (draft pick and 2 free agents) as a result of trading Spencer, Dallas would have 3 new additions likely to contribute for a few years at least.  And the draft pick much longer.

This translates into less holes to fill next off-season.  If Spencer plays out his 2nd tag, that tremendous luxury would vanish.

Anthony Spencer

Trading Spencer would be expert level maneuvering you’d expect from Bill Belichick or Jim Harbaugh, certainly not the Jerry and Jason fiasco twins.

Up to this week, Cowboys fans had received nothing but the usual lame GM strategy…retaining the same 8-8 faces, blindly hoping for better results.

Even with the surprise release of Sensabaugh (questionable due to uncertainty left at safety), the future remained a constant Ground Hog Day of mediocrity.

This masterful trade move would represent an uncharacteristically bold transaction and abruptly bring new life to the consistently regurgitated depth chart in Dallas.

Part of me is wise enough to know this ideal trade scenario is too good to be true coming from Jerry Jones.  The other half naively clings to fading optimism that new faces will appear and propel us over the Mount St. Helens playoff hump.

Hopefully when it comes to Jerry, even the sun shines on our GM every once in a while.


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Tags: Anthony Spencer Dallas Cowboys Draft Trade

  • Cowboyfan27

    You won’t get a 2nd round pick for Spencer. Not only is he going on 30, but you have to give him a long term deal on top of that. If Revis cannot command a 1st there is no way that Spencer warrants a second. Additionally, signing more players to bring the Cowboys back up to a cap number that Spencer puts them at doesn’t fix a problem. It just creates more cap issues in the future.

  • BradAustin

    People seem split on his value in relation to draft pick. I respectfully disagree and am certain he would get a 2nd. Tony Gonzalez was 33 got a 2nd rounder from Atlanta going into his 13th season and playing a skill position. A solid 30 year old starting player with no injury concerns is expected to be able to strongly play out another 4 years or so without substantial drop-off.

    When players are ranked on top free agent lists, age is a big factor in where to rank them. 30 years old with consistency starting and no injuries does not scare teams away. Especially when the last season was the best by far, on an elite level, and garnered Pro Bowl honors. Teams don’t see that as slowing down in the least, quite the opposite. Which is why most lists have him ranked the #1 LB free agent in the NFL.

    He was expected by NFL experts to command and receive around $12 mil per season over a minimum 4 years on the open market. A sizable portion would have been guaranteed. Teams who don’t value a player even worth a 2nd round pick because they are scared of 30 would never hand out that kind of huge cash in a lengthy contract. I guarantee it would be 4 years minimum.

    All it would take is a team that is looking for a few extra pieces to complete their puzzle, have a need at OLB or even 4-3 DE…and the 2nd rounder is good to go. Some established teams will trade a 2nd round pick in a heartbeat for a current Pro Bowler with 4 very strong years left minimum, and that has been extremely consistent in a productive starting role.

    As for Revis, Spencer’s money demands are nowhere near the record breaking deal Revis will want. Revis will break your bank of you trade for him. Spencer will ask for an expensive deal relatively for a high-caliber OLB, but nothing near Revis type cash. This is why Revis has so few suitors, nobody can logically afford him.

    • Cowboyfan27

      Certainly this is all speculation on our parts. The problem with gaining a 2nd round pick for Spencer is the fact that he is going to get a large contract with it. In free agency Spencer would only have a handful of suitors to begin with, perhaps ten. Some would 3-4 others 4-3, likely to be a mixture of both. A contract of ~12 million a year for a OLB with one season with more than 10 sacks is a large commitment. Add to that the price of a 2nd round pick to have the privilege of risking 48-60 million on a player who has had one great season and several serviceable years. There is clearly going to be fewer suitors, likely all of them playing a 3-4, since that is Spencer’s best position.

      As if that isn’t enough to whittle down the potential suitors they must be in a win now mindset. No team looking to build for the future is going to give out that large of a contract and trade a potential 10 year starter. So what team is willing to part with a future commodity to bring in Spencer? The only team I can think of would be New Orleans. But based upon the penalty given to them they do not even have a 2nd round pick in the upcoming draft. What other team would do it? I can think of no others.

      One of your primary motives for wanting him gone is so you can take the money given to him and spread it around on several other players. Other teams recognize that as well, giving up a large contract is one thing, but giving up a large contract and a potential starting player with a low annual salary is another. For a second round pick a team could work out a similar deal to what Dallas did last season for Claiborne. Why would they not go that route and sign an additional OLB for depth. Often picks in the top half of the first round have large impacts; look at Von Miller, JJ Watt, Aldon Smith, Ryan Kerrigan, Bruce Irvin or Jason Pierre-Paul in recent years. I mean honestly, which one of those players wouldn’t you prefer over Spencer at their salaries. A second round pick in my opinion is no sure bet, and likely a compensatory pick from losing Spencer would be close to the value gotten for him in trade.

  • ctcowboy1968

    I like the way you are thinking as long as the Cowboy drafters get it right for a change.

  • Juanito Juanito

    no good things can be expected with cowboys gm

  • billy

    good article and i hope your plan comes to fruition. however im afraid that is a near impossibility with jj running the show.i believe jj would rather trade spencer and 2 high draft choices for a worn out broken down star and get huge media attention than to make an intelligent trade as you describe. i believe after years and years of of failure to field a competitive team the cowboys are losing their fan base. jerry has been so lucky to have bought one of the most popular teams in sports but his luck will finally run out. at some point he will be forced by financial circumstances to hire someone to run the team who knows a football player when he sees one. all you have to do is look at the rangers the last few years to see the difference management makes